Why That Spoonful Of Sugar Is Bad For Your Heart

| March 20, 2014

Sugar is not only the real villain when it comes diabetes, but also for cardiovascular disease – one of the commonest and most dangerous complications of diabetes. To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, your doctor may suggest that you should take statin drugs to reduce your cholesterol levels – in fact, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently recommended that people who are reckoned to have just a 10 per cent risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years should be offered statins.

There are two huge problems with this recommendation. The first is that the way heart disease risk is assessed is inaccurate, based on outdated assumptions about the role of cholesterol that recent research has found to be invalid. The second is that statins come with a huge range of dangerous side effects, including depleting your body of co-enzyme Q-10, a vital molecule for healthy heart function.

New research has shown that there is a much less risky way of reducing your cardiovascular risks, and it’s one that will give your body a multitude of other health benefits into the bargain. Simply cut added sugar out of your diet.

The new study found that 71.4 per cent of US adults consumed more than 10 per cent of their calories from added sugars – defined as those present in processed foods, including sugar-sweetened drinks, desserts, confectionery, packaged cereals and baked goods, but excluding the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables.

For 10 per cent of the people studied, added sugar accounted for a massive 25 per cent or more of calories consumed. The data showed that, over a 15-year period, eating this amount of sugar was associated with a 2.75 times greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, when compared with an intake of less than 10 per cent.

This study makes it clear that high sugar consumption is not, as previously thought, simply a marker for an unhealthy diet or obesity. As an independent risk factor for heart disease, it is actually far more significant than intake of saturated fat.

A low-GL Mediterranean diet is good for the heart

As well as cutting added sugars down to a minimum, following a Mediterranean diet may be one of the best things you can do for your heart. The diet – which is characterised by lots of fruit, vegetables, unsaturated fats, nuts, whole grains and fish, with moderate alcohol intake and only small amounts of red meat and saturated fat – has been linked with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in several studies.

Newly-published findings show a protective effect for a Mediterranean diet against the risk of sudden cardiac death among postmenopausal women. Data from the Women’s Health Initiative study, involving 93,122 participants, revealed that women whose Mediterranean diet scores were among the top 20 per cent had a 33 per cent lower risk of sudden cardiac death, compared with women whose scores were among the lowest 20 per cent.

The ten most important dietary changes you can make to cut your risk of cardiovascular disease are:

• Cut out sweets and confectionery (except dark chocolate with 70 per cent or more cocoa solids) and reduce the sugar you add to drinks and food to an absolute minimum.
• Keep desserts, biscuits, cakes and pastries as once-in-a while treats rather than a regular part of your diet.
• Replace sweetened drinks with water or herbal teas (the artificial sweeteners used in ‘light’ versions of fizzy drinks could also damage your health – see my earlier blog posts here, here and here:
• Ditch sweetened breakfast cereals, ready meals and junk foods, which are often loaded with added sugar.
• Make sure you eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Snack on nuts and fruit if you need something between meals.
• Make fish a regular part of your diet, especially the oily kind that is full of omega-3 fatty acids.
• Use extra virgin olive oil for cooking, salad dressings and pouring over vegetables.
• Increase your intake of whole grains, pulses and seeds, for instance by having wholemeal pitta bread with hummus (made from chick peas and sesame seeds).
• Be plentiful with garlic and herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme.
• OK, this last one isn’t a dietary change, but reducing the time you spend sitting, as well as making sure you exercise regularly, could just save your life!

The traditional Mediterranean diet doesn’t feature dairy products very heavily. When dairy foods form a part of meals it is usually as yoghurt or cheese. Now, research has shown that eating yoghurt and other fermented dairy products could cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. I shall be telling you more about this in my next blog post.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.



1. O’Connor LM1, Lentjes MA, Luben RN, Khaw KT, Wareham NJ, Forouhi NG. Dietary dairy product intake and incident type 2 diabetes: a prospective study using dietary data from a 7-day food diary. Diabetologia. 2014 Feb 8 (Online ahead of print).

2. Hirahatake KM, Slavin J, Maki KC, Adams SH. Associations between dairy foods, diabetes and metabolic health: potential mechanisms and future directions. Metabolism. 2014 Jan 29 (Online ahead of print).

3. Choi HJ, Yu J, Choi H, An JH, Kim SW, Park KS, Jang HC, Kim SY, Shin CS. Vitamin K2 supplementation improves insulin sensitivity via osteocalcin metabolism: a placebo-controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2011; 34(9):e147.

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